Mark Emmert: NCAA must find balance between games, rules

NCAA President Mark Emmert, right, tells a humorous story about the size of former NBA great Shaquille O'Neal, left, at the NCAA's convention keynote luncheon Wednesday in Grapevine, Texas. O'Neal spoke about the importance of education in his life and the value his three degrees bring in his post-NBA basketball career. (AP Photo/LM Otero) Show caption
NCAA President Mark Emmert, right, tells a humorous story about the size of former NBA great Shaquille O'Neal, left, at the NCAA's convention keynote luncheon Wednesday in Grapevine, Texas. O'Neal spoke about the importance of education in his life and the value his three degrees bring in his post-NBA basketball career. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

GRAPEVINE, Texas — NCAA President Mark Emmert knows some of the organization’s rules are “simply far too complex” and that others are laughed at more than they are followed.

While Emmert supports a package of sweeping rule changes that could start to address some of those issues, he also said Thursday that the NCAA has to keep pushing to find the balance between the games and competition that everyone loves and the rules that regulate them.

“It turns out we know how to write rules. One of the problems is sometimes we write lots and lots and lots of rules,” he said before using the analogy of two sides of a coin.

“Just as the shiny side of the competition has the side that can also bring dysfunction to it, so too can the regulatory side. And we have to recognize that as we try to balance that coin on its edge.”

In his third state of the NCAA address, Emmert clearly is working toward the same things he talked about a year earlier when he talked about restoring some core principles, such as amateurism over professionalism and abiding by the rules rather than ignoring them.

Of course, abiding by the rules could become easier with what he considers a more common sense approach to the group’s regulatory side.

The NCAA board on Saturday, the NCAA convention’s final day, will vote on that package of 27 proposals.

Emmert said he senses support from members for the changes.

Some of the proposals would allow college athletes and recruits to accept more money to cover expenses for non-scholastic events, earn more prize money and allow schools and conference officials to pay for medical expenses of athletes.

They also include the creation of a uniform recruiting calendar for all sports, eliminating regulating how coaches communicate with recruits and how often they can contact them outside of no-contact periods, which will remain in place.

In his address to more than 3,000 delegates, Emmert said some of current rules are “inexplicable” at times and that some try to define acceptable and unacceptable behavior in such detail that it confines and constrains “some of the smallest aspects of the life of our student-athletes.”

He said there are rules that confuse and bewilder, parents, student-athletes.

The board will discuss and debate a complete change of a significant part of the Division I rules book, and while again not being specific, Emmert insisted it will “have a very, very positive impact on the way we conduct ourselves and on striking the appropriate balance.”

He was quick to point out, though, that there is still a lot more to be done.

Emmert opened his address with some stories about intercollegiate events, including the corporate sponsorship and huge crowds for an 1852 rowing competition between Harvard and Yale considered the first intercollegiate athletic event. That is still an annual event.

He also talked about the NCAA Final Four and the Division II and Division III basketball championship games are all played over the course of three days.

“The country will be riveted, everyone will love the shiny side of the coin, we’ll thrill at amazing performances of our student-athletes, and we’ll all fell incredibly good about the iconic thing known as intercollegiate athletics in America,” he said.

“At the same time, we have got to remember that we can’t have that without the other side of the coin, and that’s our job as well.”

After his address, Emmert concluded the opening business session by presenting the organization’s President Gerald R. Ford Award to Donna Lopiano, the former chief executive officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation who before that served 18 years as women’s athletics director at the University of Texas.

Lopiano is recognized as one of the foremost national experts on gender equity in sport, and said there is still more that needs to be done in major college athletics for female athletes and minority candidates in administrative positions.